Foraging Behavior

What Dolphins Eat and How they do it

It is ironic that just yesterday I recorded a sub-adult female bottlenose dolphin eating a 'gar-like' fish. Very long and thin. This female, #223, had the fish laterally (i.e., cross ways) in its mouth and seemed to be moving it around. Nashing her jaws just enough to reposition the fish but not too much to release it from her mouth. Not quite playing with her food, she seemed more to be getting it in position to swallow whole, head first. Dolphins do not chew their fish, they swallow it whole. The fish is digested in their three stomachs progressively. Observations of dolphin feeding behaviors from above the water include long dive intervals and dolphins that usually surface to breathe once and then stay down at least 2-3 minutes. They may chase fish at the surface or observers may even see evidence of fish schools at the surface: choppy surface waters and maybe a few birds can also be cues. Here at Mikura, dolphins routinely chase and eat flying fish ('tobiuo'). I have witnessed and recorded dolphins swimming belly up just below the water's surface following a flying fish that was airborne in an escape attempt. As soon as the fish re-entered the water, SNAP! It often became a dolphin snack. (The dolphins presumably swim belly up to follw the fish with their eyes.) Dolphins will use echolocation to scan the sea floor. In Mikura the sea floor is covered primarily by boulders while in the Bahamas it is sand. Still, the searching behaviors are similar. Dolphins scan over the bottom and once finding something will root into a crevace or push their head into the sand. More often than not, they come up with a fish in their mouth. These treats are likely snacks during the day while more intensive feeding probably occurs in slightly deeper waters with fish that will make a complete meal. Oh yes, before I forget, dolphins eat fish, of a variety of types. Cheers Kathleen